Reviewed by: Sandra Scholes
This is a novel that should automatically have a sequel planned out. On glancing at the back cover blurb and prologue, it’s easy to see why, Reaper’s Challenge isn’t for the faint-hearted, it’s full of grit, fight scenes, hacking and death, then life again due to a number of healers known as The Haze who come to battle sites to bring back the dead. T.J. Dipple doesn’t make light of the dead’s resurrection though, as it isn’t a wonderful moment of the dead to come alive in this novel. If you did read the blurb, you will find that its painful, depressing and if you get a cold-blooded killer on your back, he might well keep killing you just for kicks, then watch you come back to life. According to what I’ve read, The Haze is the gods will to preserve life on Earth, but not everyone agrees with its morality.
Tren Denroon is a new recruit for the Blades, sent by his father; he has only spent a brief time in Kavernhive. He’s learned a lot since he came, most of it about how to stay live, though how he stayed alive was fluke. At the barracks Tren gets to hear who he will be serving with, but not all are who they seem. Reaper’s Challenge is the story of Tren’s induction into the Blades from being a lucky addition to one who has to continually fight for his life. Assassins and various other criminals are rife in Kavernhive and Tren has to keep his wits about him if he wants to stay alive. There are many sinister characters in the plot that would see the Blades dead never to come back again though this isn’t the main part of the story.
Through the course of this novel T.J. Dipple introduces us to the many characters Tren serves with. They aren’t a happy bunch as they live on the edge. They get their fair share of assassins, but assassins are the least of their worries. Liaising with wizards they don’t know and rarely trust, a shady character who kills and hides in the shadows whose magic the Haze seems to shrink from is a foe to watch out for as his very presence is enough to cause goose bumps to appear. Tren learns that the Blades have a history together some of the other men have got to know of, and Tren known only as Recruit for the moment gets to hear all the dark details.
A book like this with pages of literal bite is easy to like as the author likes to fill hearts with dread as well as some glimmer of hope for the characters. It might remind many of the eighties sword and sorcery novels but it is darker than anything Weis or Hickman could come up with, and with an armoured soldier on the front cover, who would not want to turn the page and find out what’s so good to read?